Prime Minister, Winston Churchill visits Manston on 28th August 1940
On this day, 28th August 1940
Manston’s importance was recognised when the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, paid it a personal visit. He saw an airfield barely serviceable, still with craters everywhere and markers denoting unexploded bombs still to be dealt with. The next day, he wrote to the Air Ministry to express his concern at the time being taken to repair damaged airfields and suggesting that an organised system of mobile airfield companies should be formed and properly equipped for the task.
Churchill had his photo taken with members of 615 Squadron, based at Kenley during his visit, standing by the wooden intelligence hut at what is now often referred to as “the Spitfire Junction”, although that may well not be the same hut and the photo has yet to be found. The photo below shows a later visit by Churchill on 25 September 1941, shaking hands with a sergeant pilot of 615 Fighter Squadron. His wife, Clementine, can be seen behind him.
On the same day, Churchill visited Ramsgate to see the damage caused by Luftwaffe raids and earlier, Dover. Whilst in Ramsgate, there was an air raid and he was ushered into the Queen Street tunnel entrance, where he had to be reminded that he couldn’t smoke. ‘There goes a good one,’ the PM is said to have sighed as he stubbed his cigar underfoot — whereupon the locals fought for the remains.
“It was while we were at Dover, that we saw the approaching German bombers and just a short distance away they were met by British fighters. Mr Churchill seemed mesmerized as the air battle took place almost overhead. We saw maybe two German bombers crash into the sea and some fighters with smoke trailing from them as they spiraled away from the main dogfight.
Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.”
Inspector W.Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill studies reports of the action that day with Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Flag Officer Commanding Dover, on 28 August 1940 ©IWM H3508
The photos include one reported to be at Ramsgate. There is another on the following link that shows Churchill outside what is now ‘The Royal’ overlooking Ramsgate Harbour: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/591983940 – as yet a reusable copy of this image has not been sourced, so if anyone has one we would be happy to add it to our list with credit retained.
There are clearly other photos available from this day – could the one here be Ramsgate or Dover? http://www.mirror-photos.co.uk/winston-churchill-british-prime-minister/print/3668457.html
During the day, No.54 Sqn picked their way through bomb craters to give the appearance of continued operations. Among their aircraft was Spitfire R6832, flown by Flt Lt Al Deere, one of the RAF’s leading aces during World War II. He previously escaped from a forced landing on 28th May and another on the 9th July near Manston after colliding with a Bf 109. On this day, he escaped unhurt from bailing out over Detling after being shot down in error by another Spitfire.
No.54 Sqn lost another two aircraft on this day, including Sqn Ldr D.O. Finlay’s X4053 over Ramsgate, shot down by Bf 109s. He baled out and was wounded. The aircraft is believed to be that which crashed at Westbere Lake near Canterbury.
Twelve No.264 Sqn Defiants scrambled at 0845hrs to a number of German bomber formations detected building up off the French Coast, including over 50 Do17 bombers escorted by as many Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Bf 110s.
No.264 Sqn were preparing to to disband and withdraw north to Kirton on Lindsay after being based at Hornchurch but using Manston as a satellite station. The RAF had decided that because of the number of Defiants now being shot down and others receiving severe damage they were to be withdrawn from front line duties over the next 24 hours.
The Squadron would lose three Defiants, including two shot down over Thanet.
The Defiant was withdrawn from frontline service because of the high losses incurred by it, and was later adapted for a night-fighting role.
No.264 Sqn Defiant N1574 crewed by P/O David Whitley and Sgt. Robert Charles Turner were shot down and killed over Thanet at 0855hrs by a Bf109. The aircraft crashed in Kingswood, Challock Forest.
P/O Whitley was 21 and is buried in Bedford Cemetery. Sgt Turner was 25 and is buried in Henley Road Cemetery, Eye and Lunsden, Berkshire.
There is at least one record that suggest this aircraft was shot down North of Ashford. At least some parts of this aircraft were recovered in 2007.
No.264 Sqn Defiant PS-V L7026 crewed by pilot P/O Peter Lewis Kenner and gunner P/O Edward Johnson was shot down by Bf 109s of JG26 over Thanet – they were both killed when their Defiant crashed in flames on Sillibourne Farm, Hinxhill 0855hrs.
P/O Kenner was 21 and is buried in London Road Cemetery, Brentwood. P/O Johnson was 35 and is buried in Hawkinge Cemetery.
The crash-site of the Defiant was excavated by a team from the Kent Battle of Britain Museum in the 1970’s when items including the Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk. III engine, propeller hub and blade, control column, gunners escape axe and instruments were unearthed. This exhibits form a lasting memorial to its crew in the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge. Paragraph from the Museum.
No.264 Sqn Defiant L7021 crewed by pilot S/Ldr George Desmond Garvin and gunner F/L Robert Clifford Vacy Ash was shot down over Faversham by a Bf 109 at 0920hrs and crashed in flames at Luddenham Marsh, Faversham.
F/L Ash baled out but was dead on landing. S/Ldr Garvin also baled and landed with minor injuries.
F/Lt Ash was 31 and is buried in the Western Cemetery, St. Andrews, Fife.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill shakes hands with a sergeant pilot of 615 Fighter Squadron during a visit to RAF Manston, Kent, UK, on 25 September 1941. His wife, Clementine, can be seen behind him. WINSTON CHURCHILL DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN UNITED KINGDOM© IWM (H 14200)
The History of RAF Manston, FO W. Fraser RAF.
A Detailed History of RAF Manston 1931-1940. Joe Bamford and John Williams with Peter Gallagher.
First published: 28th August 2017.
Last Updated: .